…high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition, Scribner Classics, 2000, page 44.

Nick Carraway reminisces on prohibition-era New York. Having left his conservative Midwestern roots behind, he rented a modest cottage beside a lavish estate and became friends with its owner, the mysterious Jay Gatsby – the wealthy orchestrator of a nightly spectacle of alcohol, jazz, and debauchery.

Nick soon learned, however, that Gatsby had no personal interest in drinking to excess or pursuing random dalliances. His opulent displays were designed solely to attract Daisy, his flame before he went off to fight in the Great War. Tragically, Gatsby’s efforts to woo his former lover set off a chain of catastrophic events that exposed the compromised morality of the East Coast elite, and that continue to haunt Nick many years later.

The criminal practitioner will feel an immediate connection with the narrator. Nick exudes tolerance and is inclined to “reserve all judgments” (p.19). He is also sensitive to the complexities and contradictions of human behavior and he staunchly refuses to reduce individuals and events to simplistic narratives.  

Fitzgerald’s novel reminds us that careless behaviour has a cost and that individuals of all social classes often react poorly when the bill comes due.

Fitzgerald also cautions us against our nostalgia for a time when things were easier and simpler. A desire to recreate the past, and to turn a blind eye to all of the events that have taken place in the interim, jeopardizes the road ahead. Gatsby learns the hard way that there is no going back. 

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